THE BLOG
12/14/2014 10:22 pm ET Updated Feb 13, 2015

Contrasting Cruz and Warren-Pelosi Budget Battles: Why Democrats Have High Political Ground in 2016

Over the last week we have seen played out in the national political spotlight the fundamental reason why Democrats have the high political ground in 2016.

Senator Ted Cruz used every procedural move available to block Senate consideration of the "CRomnibus" appropriation bill that he demanded defund President Obama's Immigration Executive Actions.

Senator Warren and House Leader Nancy Pelosi led campaigns to prevent inclusion of a provision to once again allow a federal bailout of big Wall Street banks that engage in the same kinds of risky investment schemes that precipitated the 2008 financial meltdown and the Great Recession.

Neither side was successful in the legislative short run. At the same time, both sides engaged and motivated the bases of their respective parties with their stands.

But the similarities stop there. These two battles are powerful illustrations of a major emerging fact in American politics.

It is widely understood that the more GOP candidates for president adopt the priorities of the base of their party -- particularly hard-core opposition to immigration reform -- the more difficult it is for them to win general elections. That's because hard-core stances against immigration reform, women's reproductive rights, gay rights, etc. alienate huge sections of the electorate that are required to win presidential elections. That is especially true of socially moderate suburban women swing voters and elements of growing segments of the electorate like young people, single women, Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans and of course LGBT voters.

What is not so widely understood is that by adopting the populist positions championed by the progressive base of the Democratic Party -- especially when it comes to raising the wages of ordinary Americans, reigning in Wall Street, and ending the widening chasm of income inequality -- Democrats are more likely to win general elections at all levels.

Political consultant and former Senior Advisor to the President, David Axelrod, was asked Sunday on Meet the Press if the Democratic Party could accommodate both the Clintonites and the Warrenites. He answered absolutely -- if Hilary Clinton moves to adopt the more populist position of the Warren wing of the party -- because those are the positions that will also increase Democratic chances of winning general elections.

No one with an ounce of political sense would ever say that it makes Republican candidates more likely to win general elections if they adopt the radical positions of Ted Cruz.

But the fact is that the core positions of the base of the Democratic Party are widely popular in America: raising the minimum wage, eliminating loopholes that allow employers to escape paying overtime to employees, raising the wages of the middle class, making student loans more affordable, regulating -- and even breaking up big Wall Street banks.

Even positions that used to be wedge issues in the Democratic coalition -- universal background checks for all gun purchasers, women's reproductive rights, sanctioning gay marriage, civil and voting rights -- receive overwhelming support among Democratic voters and majority support among swing voters.

The more the Democratic Party reflects the values, priorities and policies of its progressive base the more likely it is to win. The more the Republican Party reflects values, priorities and polities of its Tea Party conservative base, the more likely it is to lose -- it's that simple.

This political reality reflects the basic underlying economic and social reality of 21st century American life. Most Americans have experienced stagnant incomes for over three decades. Our Gross Domestic Product and productivity per person have gone up about 80 percent, but average incomes didn't go up 80 percent. Instead nearly all of the increases went to the top two percent -- and especially to the speculators on Wall Street.

As a result today -- even after the shock of the Great Recession -- the stock market is at record highs, corporate profits are at record highs, and the share of national income going to wages is at a record low.

The party who speaks to that fact, will have the support of the American people -- and the populist, progressive base of the Democratic Party does just that.

There was a time, when many Americans understood that Republicans stood up for the rich and Democrats stood up for the average person. Now, it is true that many people in the middle class believe that -- where they are concerned -- there isn't much of a difference. Many understand that the Republicans stick up for the rich alright, but they also think Democrats only stick up for the very poor and their friends on Wall Street -- leaving them -- the people in the middle -- without a champion.

The fact is that the more the Democratic Party adopts the populist, progressive, anti-Wall Street positions of its base, the more it attracts the middle class swing voters whose votes are critical in a general election.

And, of course, these are exactly the same messages that motivate the party's progressive base to turn out in large numbers.

Unfortunately, the messages that motivate the Republican base to turn out in large numbers do not have that effect on swing voters at all. Sounding more like Ted Cruz might excite the GOP faithful, but it is frightening to soccer moms and sounds down right strange to young people.

And something else is important to remember. When swing voters don't believe that one of the two parties is their champion -- when they don't think there is a clear contrast when it comes to who is on their side -- they are much more likely to be open to try the opposition if they don't think things have been going so well for them under the current management.

If voters don't think there is any more difference between Republicans and Democrats than there is between American and United Airlines, they make a simple and seemingly rational calculation: if my income hasn't gone up much under a Democratic president, might as well try a Republican president.

But that calculation changes enormously when they become convinced that one party is truly their champion and the other party is not.

The populist economic message of Progressive Democrats is a huge winner when it comes to ordinary middle class voters who are just trying to live their lives and don't follow the ins and outs of politics every day. And it makes them tune in.

My wife, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, was approached as she was shopping by six ordinary customers at the Jewel Food Store -- and a sales clerk at Carson Pirie Scott Department store on Saturday after she voted with House Leader Pelosi to oppose the new Wall Street bailout that was included in last week's appropriation bill. All of them had been following the battle and thanked her for her vote. This is not at all what ordinarily happens after a vote in Congress.

Washington insiders and pundits can go on until they are blue in the face trying to convince us that there is an equivalency of those who advocate for the values of the Tea Party on the GOP side, and the populist values of the progressive base of the Democrats on the other. They would do well to get out more.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.